With the election over, lawmakers in Washington are turning their attention back to the policy priorities du jour. Second only to the impending fiscal deadline debate is the struggle for a comprehensive immigration reform law.
While the ultimate goal of immigrant rights advocates and like-minded legislators in the House and Senate is a pathway to citizenship for the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States, some law-makers are taking on a familiar, related fight: the DREAM Act.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) reintroduced the DREAM Act to the Senate this year. The bill was narrowly defeated in the Senate in 2010 after passing in the House, yet action and agitation on the part of DREAMers and their allies helped sustain the immigration reform movement in the intervening years. The DREAM Act would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people who came to the US before the age of 16, are under the age of 36, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years. DREAMers must have earned a high school degree or GED, or be enrolled in post-secondary education to be eligible.
Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), and John Kyl (R-AZ) have introduced a counter proposal known as the Assisting Children and Helping them Improve their Educational Value for Employment Act (or ACHIEVE Act). The ACHIEVE Act is similar to the DREAM Act in that it provides a pathway to citizenship for some eligible undocumented youths, but the conditions for eligibility are narrower, and requirements to apply are harder, and there are more steps in its pathway to citizenship.
If the ACHIEVE Act were law, only those DREAMers who came to the US before the age of 14, are under the age of 28, and (like the DREAM Act) have resided in the country for five years would benefit. Moreover, unlike the DREAM Act's six-year period of conditional and non-immigrant status (wherein the individual has a legal immigration status, but not citizenship), under the ACHIEVE Act that period is extended to ten years or more.
The ACHIEVE Act is not the comprehensive reform we have been fighting for—nor is it even the DREAM Act that hundreds of thousands of DREAMers and activists have struggled to have passed for years. It is a watered-down parting-shot for two retiring senators (Kyl and Hutchison) who spent much of the past two years opposing outright any talk of immigration reform—including the DREAM Act. Their bill is an empty gesture which only reveals just how out of touch these men are with the times.
When it comes to immigration reform, we don't want more muddled half-measures. We don't need more empty-gestures made for political points. What we need is a single comprehensive solution that provides a pathway to all undocumented Americans. If our representatives in the House and Senate are sincere about their desire to reform our immigration system, they will make sure to center any reform legislation around a pathway to citizenship for all of the 11 million undocumented Americans presently in the United States. Anything short of that would be an unacceptable compromise of our values and our struggle.
For more information on the specific differences between the DREAM Act and ACHIEVE Act, visit the source material, prepared by First Focus.